Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Curtain call for Plaza

Curtain call for Plaza
The old theatre on M G Road was an ideal haunt for many a celluloid fantasies.

Deccan Herald

It was in the summer of 1959 that I saw Curtiz’ White Christmas at Plaza. My neighbours on Richmond Road - Paul, Stuart and Sylvia - took me there. As a little kid, I was dazzled by the colour and distracted by the popcorn and tomfoolery with the boys! Not the best way to see a musical comedy. But somehow the outing planted the seeds of a life-long fascination for cinema.

White Christmas was the first of many films I’d see at Plaza. The shows there had a set routine: Music for 15 minutes before the lights dimmed and the slide ads came on, followed by a boring B/W newsreel, trailers and then the main feature. In all, two-hours of movie excitement that had popcorn and other munchies, either brought to us by a vendor to our seats or from the kiosk outside.

Plaza had three shows daily. Most movies played from Friday to Thursday. Ticket prices ranged from annas eight for the front stalls to Rs 1 and annas 12 for the highest seat in the balcony, the Dress Circle. A time when Crown Café, Brigade Road, had ice cream for annas four! How did one know what was playing?

Primarily by word of mouth. Or by posters stuck on strategically placed boards – like the one on a tree in the Lopes’ compound on Richmond Road facing Wellington Street. Newspaper ads added to the excitement of going to the cinema. Earlier, brochures printed in America and overprinted locally, served as promo material.

In those movie-mad days, as kids and later, we’d make a beeline for Plaza as it had some of the finest cinema made. To give an idea of movies that delighted us then, and those that continue to do so even now, here is a list, starting with White Christmas.

Vidor’s Hans Christian Anderson (1952), Panama’s/Frank’s The Court Jester (’56), Tashlin’s Artists and Models (’55) and Wyler’s Roman Holiday among others.
DeMille’s The Ten Commandments (’56) starring Charlton Heston and the beautiful Yvonne de Carlo took Bangalore by storm. People stood in lines for hours to see it. Special screening for students was arranged.

Inside the theatre hall huge cutouts of Heston’s Moses added to the excitement. The long, 220-minutes movie created history by playing for more than 2 years, the longest running Hollywood film in Bangalore.

Plaza was special to many generations. Brig LERB Ferris AVSM (retd) remembers the Dress Circle, “You had to be well dressed to sit there. Young officers like me sat with our British seniors and watched the likes of glamorous Hedy Lamarr.” The lady was hot property and had a reputation for playing sultry roles.

“During the intermission”, remembers Pratap Chettur, “The Britishers had their personal bearers at the bar, waiting on cue, to serve scotch and soda or a gimlet.” The wooden dance floor saw a lot of action with officers boogying or doing a quickstep. No doubt inspired by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dancing to Porter’s Night and Day and The Continental. Youngsters can’t forget the adrenalin-rush seeing Ardolino’s Dirty Dancing (1987), and the Gen Next bunking classes to see Roach’s Meet the Fockers (2004).

Egged on by technical innovations, the movies gave birth to a theater-building boom. In an attempt to make going to the movies as memorable as the film itself, architects and engineers constructed buildings that stimulated the senses. From neon lights to the cushion seats of the balcony, no detail was overlooked.
In the West, instances abound where well-wishers bail out old movie theatres in distress by refurbishing them or in screening Classic Cinema. In Los Angeles, the New Beverly Cinema is a shining example of this movement -- where a revival house screens classics.

In Bangalore, things haven’t started working that way. Yet. So institutions such as Plaza despite their charm have to bow to the demolition ball, and make way for the multiplex!

For patrons, who have literally grown up watching movies there, Plaza theatre will be missed.


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